I acquired this book shortly before Thanksgiving knowing that I was going to be spending some quiet time on a much need vacation away from much of society, around Christmas, and with that I took along a few books, this one among them, a paperback published in April 2018, first it’s a non-fiction book, a thoroughly detailed and a wonderful read, from McFarland. It accounts and assess ‘witches’ in American Film and Television and ventures into interesting sub-topics namely chapter six: Satanic Panic, which occurred in the early 80s and certain groups cited everything that religious minded individuals dislike as the influences of the devil, having personally lived through this era receiving much of the name-calling and false accusations, hence the chapter stood out to me immediately, but more this later. The topic, always a fascinating exploration in book, film, and historical aspects (most noting the Salem Witch Trials) but the influence on society itself, a purely side-note that in 2007 Arlington Cemetery accepted the Pentacle Symbol of the Wiccan faith, therefore let’s begin the journey.
Heather Greene presents a detailed book, one thing I always do before reading a book is examine the cover, contents, footnote section i.e. Chapter Notes, Bibliography, and glancing at the Index, why – because it allows one to prepare for the vastness and overwhelming details presented in the book. One of the key aspects of the book, is that it deals solely with American films and television, hence it removes connection to any movie that contains a joint venture such as Robert Egger’s movie The Witch (an American-Canadian); although while understanding this challenging angle and that one needs to limit the scope of material, it develops a hidden issue. This comes under the heading of influence, for example in the book when discussing the modern witch in The Love Witch, the movie contains obvious influences of Mava Bava an Italian filmmaker, this of course extends further with how both American and European culture directly influence the content makers. In European history those accused of witchcraft some were actually burned at the stake and those films from overseas often contain eroticism while the American history differs when it comes to trial of witches and some of the movies, such as Love Witch and Witch’s Night (2007) and even the long running franchise Witchcraft.
However, aside from that aspect, Greene’s book, filled with detailed subsections, and plenty of interesting conclusions, especially since witches and witchcraft in some circles are the work of the Devil, but often the comedy and humor filled screen and leap from the pages. One of the overly large topics covered in multiple portions of the books revolve around The Wizard of Oz and namely Wicked Witch portrayed by Margaret Hamilton, and on the topic of animation such as Wendy The Good Little Witch who appears on Casper or later Scooby-Doo in which the witches often are shown wearing purple, a historical reference to the witches of Salem. However, Hamilton’s coverage is more fascinating, including when appearing on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in 1975, where the witch community was upset that Rogers’ stated “witches are make-believe and all pretend” but while an educator he also a graduated as a minster from a seminary, and leaned conservatively, hence his viewpoint often was seen as protection to children. Nevertheless in 1986 the height of the Satanic Panic, where conservative parent groups saw the devil everywhere, the slight hint (often based from lies and fibs) caused terror, numerous expensive court cases and in some cases vandalism. In some manners the actions of a few mirrored that of the behavior of the Salem Witch Trials, except instead of death, plenty of ruined reputations and careers. In reruns of Mr. Rogers, Hamilton’s episodes incurred their wrath consequently the episode vanished from the airwaves. A side note, though not mentioned in the book, she starred in 13 Ghosts (1960) and in the close out scene Margaret holds a broom and gives a knowing glance straight to the camera, breaking the fourth-wall of acting and conveying the ‘witch’ to audience, noting though Wizard of Oz not as popular then as its today.
Therefore, for the horror fans, they might find some wonderful enjoyment with the book, as it notes references to Pumpkinhead (1988) and other horror films of the 70s, however there are areas some might disagree with, but that’s the pleasure of reading non-fiction works about the beloved genre it opens one’s mind to various interpretations. Overall an enjoyable read, with a high emphasis on research and proving Greene’s points she establishes early in her book.
Baron’s Rating: 4.5/5
Title: Bell, Book and Camera
Author: Heather Greene
Publisher: McFarland https://mcfarlandbooks.com/
Publication Date: April 2018
Page Count: 242